Here’s an idea: If you want to get a sense of what’s going on in your neighborhood, get out and walk the neighborhood.
If you want to know more about your neighborhood, you can gather census data, you can talk with local officials, you can research neighborhood crime reports, you can attend a neighborhood association meeting – all worthy tasks. But before you do all of that, you might start by praying for the neighborhood.
Some find this notion intimidating. Will the neighbors find it odd if we tell them what we are doing? If we ask for specific prayer requests, will they feel threatened by our offer?
Prayer Walks don’t have to be intimidating. Perhaps the best thing to do is to try one and see what happens. Be sure to allow time at the beginning to make sure everyone knows what they are doing, and why they are doing it. And don’t neglect to allow time at the end to debrief, hear each other’s stories, and see what you have learned.
It’s okay to start small. Make an open invitation to your congregation to meet at a particular time. Work with who shows up. Plan 15 minutes to prepare, 30 minutes to walk, and 15 minutes to debrief. Break into groups of 2 or more and head out in different directions. Pray before you start. Report your experience and findings to the congregation. See where God leads you.
The Communities First Association gives some guidelines for prayer walking your neighborhood:
1. Pray for discernment—that God will reveal what he sees, hears, and knows about the people, events, and things of the community; that you will develop the eyes to see what God is already doing in the community and among the people.
2. Pray for blessing—over every house and person you see and interact with; for God’s intervention in each life, so that each one can be fruitful in his kingdom.
3. Discover the neighborhood—…take note of the gifts that exist in the community which might be a source of blessing…when they are shared.
4. Interact with the neighborhood—talk with anyone who is interested about personal issues, community issues, and anything else that may come up….
5. Look for ways to bless and intervene in the community with love and grace, as Jesus would.
Van Groningen, Jay, ed. Communities First. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, 2005. 30-31.
There are many other models for prayer walks. Find one that fits your congregation. (And if your congregation isn’t ready, invite a friend and take the first step on your own.) Be open to what God will show you. Prepare to be surprised!
Prayer Focus: Pray for your congregation, that members will proclaim their faith in word and deed throughout the week.